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THE ROLE OF LORD SAINSBURY - A conflict of interest?
Posted 1 August 2001
A submission by Animal Aid.
We regard as thoroughly inappropriate the direct intervention of Lord Sainsbury. As Science Minister at the Department for Trade and Industry, a member of the cabinet biotechnology committee, and the head of the Office of Science and Technology, Lord Sainsbury has a pivotal role in controlling the direction and funding of science research in the UK.
As a consequence, the Minister - an outspoken supporter of biotechnology and who recently donated £2 million to the Labour Party - has been accused (The Guardian, Feb. 16. 99) of having a conflict of interest.
For some 11 years, Lord Sainsbury owned the company Diatech, which controls the world-wide patent rights over a key gene currently used in the genetic modification process. (The Guardian Feb. 16, 1999) The patent is set to generate a fortune for Diatech.
Lord Sainsbury is reported (The Guardian, February 16, 1999) to have switched his Diatech holding to a blind trust in July 1998, three days after he joined the government. The minister is also reported (The Guardian September 30 1999) as declaring that he has 'no idea whether the people managing my financial affairs have retained my interest in certain businesses.'
It appears from the details so far made public, that the proposed research centre, for which Lord Sainsbury is now serving as an advocate, will be directed, to a significant degree, in generating biotech products of a diagnostic and therapeutic class. The patents on such products could generate substantial income - irrespective of the ultimate utility or safety of the products in question.
Given this commercial and political background we are concerned to witness the direct part now being played by the minister in the planning process related to the proposed scheme. We would encourage those charged with making the decision not to be intimidated by the intervention of such a big hitter, nor to be misled by the hyperbolic nature of his letter.